Ending Toxic Diet Culture and Why it’s Important

It starts before we realize what it actually is. This notion that being healthy or attractive equates to being thin. We see it in commercials with the slender supermodel slowly drinking her Diet Coke. It’s in the way we describe people, “She’s lost weight. She looks great.” The thing is, we need to put an end to toxic diet culture. Toxic diet culture, for our purposes, is any fast weight loss program, restrictive eating regimen, or other scenarios that cause you to deprive your body in order to be skinny, and therefore healthy. So, now that we know what it is, what do we do about ending toxic diet culture?

Ending Toxic Diet Culture Starts with You

In order to do our part in ending toxic diet culture, we need to change our mindsets. I remember my grandmother would always describe an attractive person as skinny. If someone gained weight, she was the first to notice. I didn’t realize it then, but this put the idea in my mind that in order to be pretty, you need to be thin.

Being a tall girl, I always felt bigger than my friends. When we would share our weights in middle school, I was always heavier. What I wish I could tell my younger self is, “Duh, there is more of you in height so you should weigh more.”

I am not the only one that falls into this trap. We all know a person in our life that can eat whatever they want and remain thin. A few things we need to remember are: 1. That person has a different genetic makeup; 2. Just because they are thin doesn’t mean they are healthy. I am sure Amy Winehouse, who was very skinny, can attest to this; 3. Curves aren’t bad, and being thin isn’t bad either. It’s about loving our bodies enough to nourish it with healthy food and enough exercise to promote longevity. 

Start Them Young

Once we have our own mindsets in the right headspace, we need to have different conversations with our kids. This conversation will evolve as kids grow, but ending toxic diet culture can never begin too early. My very smart BFF started this with her toddler-aged kids by saying this, out loud, in front of the mirror, “I feel confident and healthy which makes me happy.” Notice she didn’t say anything about thinness or weight.

As kids get older, we can add more to the conversation. We can say we work out because it makes our muscles strong and helps us live longer. We can tell our our teenagers how eating junk all the time and drinking soda can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. The details will be age dependent, but the overall message is clear. Being healthy is a lifestyle change and it is to promote living long, healthy lives, no matter our size. 

Know When to Dial it Back

Another aspect of toxic diet culture that isn’t discussed is what do you do once you are at a healthy goal? Many workout and eat healthily to lose weight. For some, weight loss may be needed in order to support heart health. What happens once that weight has been lost?

The brain has been wired to keep the momentum going and many get a rush or high from this. Every pound lost is another win. It’s addicting, but at some point needs to stop. If that momentum continues your body will be malnourished and this is when eating disorders can manifest. This happened to me in my twenties. I got into running and loved it. The music in my ears as my tennis shoes hit the pavement was exhilarating. I wasn’t trying to lose weight but I also wasn’t eating enough to support my increased running. I was obsessed. Several pounds and concerning conversations later, I had to change my habits and make sure I was fueling my body enough.

Over-exercising is an easy trap to fall into, so make sure you are focused on the right goals. If those goals are to promote your overall health, then make sure you are giving your body enough to do so. 

We have work to do, sis. Thin doesn’t mean pretty. It doesn’t mean happy. Being thin is a physical characteristic of a person that is heavily related to genetics. Love yourself enough to nourish your body the right way and teach your kids that same mentality. Let’s make their world one in which toxic diet culture is no more.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, or other serious ailments due to toxic diet culture, please consult a doctor. There are more resources available here at the National Eating Disorder Association

Looking to begin the conversation about how working out can keep you healthy and strong? Check out these YouTube workouts that the whole family can do!

Jessica Walter
I am a working mom who left the education world after 7 years to pursue my business career. I work as a product developer at a local insurance company and love it. My husband and sons are my world. We struggled for 3 years with fertility prior to adopting our first son. Later, we really wanted him to have a sibling so pursued IVF using donor embryos (because we firmly believe love makes a family) and were then blessed with our second son. When I’m not working or playing the wife/mom role, I love to run, read, bake, write, and tinker with photography. We all have a story to share and I hope some of my experiences will help others.


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